Tenjiku Tokubei

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  • Born: 1612
  • Japanese: 天竺 徳兵衛 (Tenjiku Tokubee)

Tenjiku Tokubee was one of a great number of Japanese sailors and adventurers who journeyed in Southeast Asia in the early 17th century, prior to the imposition of maritime restrictions.

Returning to Japan from Siam and other parts, he wrote his memoirs, leaving the tales of his adventures to later generations, and earning the name Tenjiku (an old Japanese name for India) as a result of his travels. The memoirs, dated 1707, when Tokubei would have been 96 years old, are said to contain numerous exaggerations and inconsistencies.[1]

Tokubee appears in a number of kabuki plays, in which his character and lifestory are drastically altered, and Tokubee is represented as a wizard plotting rebellion or revenge upon Japan. In many of these stories, it is said he is the son of a Korean official and seeks revenge against Japan for the death and destruction caused by Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Korean Invasions of the 1590s. Though supposedly Korean, Tokubee is represented onstage by a disjointed series of foreign attributes, including red hair, an unshaven pate, a robe with Ainu patterns and the supposed skill of "Christian magics", learned from his Korean father, the incantations of which include Portuguese words such as Santa Maria and paraiso. He uses these incantations to summon a giant fire-breathing frog.


  • Suzuki, Keiko. "The Making of Tôjin: Construction of the Other in Early Modern Japan." Asian Folklore Studies vol. 66 (2007). pp83-105.
  1. Cesare Polenghi, Samurai of Ayutthaya: Yamada Nagamasa, Japanese warrior and merchant in early seventeenth-century Siam. Bangkok: White Lotus Press, (2009), 7.